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Tavis Smiley

Tavis Smiley

Enlighten. Indiana University alumnus Tavis Smiley is the host of the late night PBS talk show Tavis Smiley and PBS primetime specials Tavis Smiley Reports as well as the radio program The Tavis Smiley Show, distributed by Public Radio International (PRI).

Smiley is the first American to simultaneously host signature talk shows on both public television and public radio. TIME magazine honored Smiley in 2009 as one of “The World’s 100 Most Influential People.” The annual TIME 100 list profiles men and women whose power, talent, or moral example has made a significant difference in the world.

In 2007, Smiley made television history as the moderator and executive producer of the All-American Presidential Forums on PBS, the first prime-time Democratic and Republican presidential debates with a panel exclusively comprised of journalists of color.

In addition to his broadcast work, Smiley founded SmileyBooks as a co-publishing venture with Hay House, Inc. He is also the author of 14 books. His memoir, What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America (Doubleday), made the New York Times best seller list, and the Covenant with Black America, which he edited, reached No. 1 on the New York Times best seller list. He is also the presenter and creative force behind America I AM: The African American Imprint—an unprecedented, award-winning traveling museum exhibition celebrating the extraordinary impact of African American contributions to our nation and to the world.

On his website, Tavis Talks, Smiley says that three E’s drive his life: enlightenment, encouragement, and empowerment. “To enlighten, encourage, and empower” is also the mission of his nonprofit organization, the Tavis Smiley Foundation, a leadership training and development program for African American youth. But there’s a fourth E that also plays a large role in Smiley’s life and work: education. The oldest of 10 children, Smiley came to Indiana University with only $40, a suitcase, and his admission letter. But thanks to his passionate determination to study at IU, he won a scholarship and was able to attend. Despite a painful incident that occurred his junior year—his friend was killed by white Indiana police officers in a supposed act of self-defense—Smiley nearly finished his bachelor’s degree in public affairs in 1987, and then took a semester off to work for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. (Smiley officially earned his degree in 2003). His friend’s death sparked the first of Smiley’s many political and social advocacy campaigns, as he helped lead protests to defend his friend, whom he believed had been wrongfully killed.

Smiley has been honored with numerous awards and recognitions for his advocacy and broadcast work, including:

  • 2009 Interdependence Day Prize from Demos in Istanbul, Turkey
  • Du Bois Medal from Harvard University
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Image Award for best news, talk, or information series for three consecutive years for his work on BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley and for Tavis Smiley on PBS
  • Doctor of Humane Letters degree, Indiana University Kokomo.

Tavis Smiley gave the commencement address at IU Bloomington on May 5, 2007, the day after receiving IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award, the highest honor granted by the school. In 2009, Indiana University renamed the SPEA atrium the Tavis Smiley Atrium.

"Tavis has sought out opportunities to be a mentor, to lift up those who need a helping hand…" —Adam Herbert, Indiana University’s 17th president and first African American president
Visit the IU display in Indianapolis at Indiana Black Expo July 8-18, 2010, booth 217.
Explore diversity resources at IU.